« ForrigeFortsett »
All Nature goes ;
Time on the wing,
May ends the Spring,
PHILLIS WHEATLEY PETERS, 1754-1784.
In the year 1761 there was brought to Boston, in a vessel from Africa, a young girl of about seven years of age, slenderly formed, in feeble health from the change of climate and the miseries of the voyage, and not able to speak a word of English. Mr. John Wheatley, a wealthy merchant, saw her, and, touched by her interesting face and modest demeanor, took her to his own house, and his wife, with a true woman's heart, devoted herself to the wants of the little stranger. In a short time, the effects of comfortable clothing, wholesome food, and kind treatment were clearly visible, and Mrs. Wheatley's daughter undertook to teach her to read and write. So astonishing was her progress, that in sixteen months from the time of her arrival in this humane family she had so mastered the English language as to read with ease any portion of the Bible; and to this attainment she soon added that of writing, which she acquired solely by her own unassisted efforts.
So rapid was her progress in learning, that she became an object of general attention, and corresponded with several persons of great distinction.' attracted the notice of the literary characters of Boston, who supplied her with books and encouraged her intellectual efforts. Mrs. Wheatley, too, did all she could to promote her happiness, and to aid her in the acquisition of knowledge, treating her as a child, and introducing her into the best society of Boston. But, notwithstanding all the attentions she received, she still retained her original and native modesty of deportment, and never presumed upon the kindness of her friends and admirers. She studied Latin, and, at the age of fourteen, made her first attempts at poetry, in translations from Ovid's Fables. So creditable wero these to her scholarship, taste, and poetic talent, that she was encouraged to write
1 Some years after this, she addressed a poem to General Washington, while be was at his head-quarters at Cambridge, Mass., February, 1776; who thus kindly replied :-“I thank you most sincerely for your polite notice of me in the elegant lines you enclosed ; and, however undeserving I may be of such encomium and panegyric, the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your poetical talents, in honor of which, and as a tribute justly due to you, I would have published the poem, had I not been apprehensive that, while I only meant to give the world this new instance of your genius, I might have incurred the imputation of vanity. This, and nothing else, determined me not to give it place in the public prints.
“ If you should ever come to Cambridge, or near head-quarters, I shall be happy to see a person so favored by the Muses, and to whom Nuture has been so liberal and beneficent in her dispensations."
more; and before she was nineteen a volume of her poems was published in Lon. don, in 1772.
In 1773,' her health had so far declined, from her close attention to her studies, that her physicians recommended a sea-voyage, and accordingly she sailed for England. Her fame had gone before her, and she was received with marked respect by many distinguished individuals. But in the midst of the attentions of the court she heard that her former mistress was sick, and her heart prompted her to return home at once. She did so in time to minister to Mrs. Wheatley, whose sickness terminated in death the next year; and the year after, Mr. Wheatley followed her to the grave. Thus deprived of her best friends, poor and desolate, she accepted an offer of marriage from a colored man by the name of Peters, of polished manners and a good education. He had studied law; and tradition says that he actually plead many cases at the bar. But soon after their marriage he became a bankrupt, and they were reduced to utter want. After living with him three years in great poverty, and becoming the mother of three children, her health rapidly declined, and she died on the 5th of December, 1784.
With any of our poets prior to the year 1800, Phillis Wheatley will bear a favorable comparison, whether we consider the ease and correctness of her versification, her elevated moral and religious sentiments, or her pure fancy. Indeed, when we take into view the times in which she lived, the little attention then paid to female education, her youthful years, and the difficulties of race and language rhich she surmounted, her poems are very remarkable.2
LINES ON THE DEATH OF DR. SEWALL.
Lo, here a man, redeem'd by Jesus' blood,
From a Boston newspaper of May 10, 1773:-“Saturday last, Captain Calef sailed for London, with whom went passengers Mr. Wheatley, merchant; also Phillis, the extraordinary negro poet.”.
2 Read “Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley," Boston, 1834; “ Christian Examiner,” xvi. 169. “A Tribute for the Negro," p. 332.
The writer of the article in the “ Christian Examiner” thus remarks :-"Such was the fate of Phillis Wheatley, a heroine, though a black one. Perhaps ber genius, her unquestionable virtues, the vicissitudes of her life, and her melancholy end, ought to excite as much interest as the fate of Lady Jane Grey, or Mary Queen of Scots, or any other heroine, ancient or modern ; but such, we fear, will not be the case."--Christian Examiner, May, 1834.
I, too, have cause this mighty loss to mourn,
ON THE DEATH OF AN INFANT. .
Through airy fields he wings his instant flight,
To yon bright regions let your faith ascend,
A FAREWELL TO AMERICA.
To Mrs. Susannah Wright.
Adieu, the flowery plain ;
And tempt the roaring main.
In vain for me the flow'rets rise,
And boast their gaudy pride,
I mourn for health denied.
Oh, let me feel thy reign!
Thy vanish'd joys regain.
To see the crystal shower,
At sad departure's hour;
Her soul with grief opprest;
Steal froin its pensive breast.
In vain the garden blooms,
Breathes out her sweet perfumes.
We sweep the liquid plain,
The wide extended main.
Complacent and serene,
With soul-delighting mien,
With misty vapors crown’d,
And veil her charms around.
So slow thy rising ray ?
Thou glorious king of day!
New England's smiling fields; To view again her charms divine,
What joy the prospect yields !
With all thy fatal train,
By thine enchanting strain.
Secures their soul from harms, And fell Temptation on the field
Of all its power disarms.
JOEL BARLOW, 1755—1812.
Joel Barlow, the author of The Columbiad, was born in Reading, Fairfield County, Connecticut, in 1755. He entered Dartmouth College in 1774, but soon left that institution and went to Yalo, where he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1778. He then entered upon the study of law, which he soon exchanged for theology, and received a license as chaplain to the army, in which he remained till the close of the war. While in this situation, he composed, with his friends, Rev. Timothy Dwight and Colonel Humphreys, various patriotic songs and alldresses, which exerted no little influence upon the minds of the soldiery. Ho commenced, also, at this time, The Vision of Columbus, which afterwards formed the basis of his larger work, The Columbiad.
After the peace in 1783, Barlow went back from the gospel to the law, for which he was much better suited; and settled in Hartford. To add to his income, he established a weekly gazette, called The American Mercury, which gained for him considerable reputation by its able editorial management. About this time, he revised and published the Psalms and Hymns of Dr. Isaac Watts; and two years after, in 1787, appeared his first large poem, on which he had been laboring for many years, The Vision of Columbus. To increase the sale of these, he gave up his newspaper and opened a book-store. But his books not doing so well as he expected, the next year he went to England as agent of a fraudulent land-company, of the nature of which he was at first ignorant: he gave up his
agency, however, as soon as the character of the company became known to him. He was absent seventeen years, most of which time he spent in France, where he published a number of political pamphlets, and also his best and most celebrated poem, Hasty Pudding. In 1795, Washington appointed him consul at Algiers, with power to negotiate a treaty of peace with the Dey, and to ransom all Americans held in slavery on the coast of Barbary. He accepted the appointment, concluded the treaty favorably, and made similar ones with the Governments of Tripoli and Tunis. He was thus the happy means of freeing large numbers of Americans from Algerine slavery.' In 1797, be returned to France, entered into commercial pursuits, and amassed a large fortune. In 1805, he sold all his property in France, returned home, and took up his residence at Georgetown, District of Columbia. In 1808, bis Columbiad was published in quarto, in splendid style. The mechanical execution of this work entitles it to admiration; but this is about all that can be said in its praise. It is the history of Columbus in rhyme; and in poetical merit is about equal to Addison's Campaign. In 1811, he was appointed minister-plenipotentiary to France, to obtain indemnification for injuries sustained by American commerce. The next year he was invited to meet Napoleon at Wilna, in Poland, for a personal conference; but the great severity of the climate, fatigue, and exposure, brought on an inflammation of the lungs, and he died in an obscure village near Cracow, in Poland, on the 22d of December, 1812.
1 For much valuable information on this subject, read a Lecture before the Boston Mercantile Library Association, entitled “White Slavery in Algiers,” by Charles Sumner.